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Not the Prudes We Think They Were: The Decameron

By Mara Revitsky ’20

decameronAbove is John William’s 1916 rendition of people telling the stories of The Decameron.

I am an insufferable dork when it comes to history.

In taking just two European History classes, I realized just how many familiar problems people of the past have to modern society. Humans are still struggling with the same issues of greed, envy, heartbreak, social image, and so many others. Humans also haven’t evolved much when it comes to humor.

In the second of the two European classes, I read stories from Giovanni Boccaccio’s The Decameron, and I was shocked by the similarities to our modern concerns. Boccaccio wrote three types of stories: satires, tragedies, and jokes.

His satires discussed concepts like church versus religion, punishment as a result of being different, and cleverness. The tragedies were primarily concerned with virtue and merit. The most interesting type, jokes, illustrated how people are human.

Before reading Boccaccio, I—like many others—believed the misconception that the people of the 14th century were prudish, uptight, and only associated sex with reproduction. However, one can clearly see how this is very false in the stories “Putting the Devil into Hell” and “The Dumb Gardner.”

“Putting the Devil into Hell” follows a fourteen-year-old girl, Alibech, and her journey to serve God. She goes in search of a tutor to enlighten her in the practices and teachings of the Lord. Because she is so young and so beautiful, all of these holy men turn her down. She is too much of a temptation to go against their vows. However, a younger monk who lives in an isolated cave takes her in to teach her. The monk is also tempted by her and seeks to have his way with her.

To accomplish this task, he tells her that the best way she can serve God is to put the Devil in Hell. In this euphemism, his genitals are the Devil and her genitals Hell. You see the humor here when Alibech begins to like serving God this way, pleading with him to “aid me with thy Devil in abating my raging Hell.” The monk gets worn out by all of this sex, so he wants to find a way to get rid of Alibech.

A young nobleman discovers Alibech has a great family fortune and takes her away to marry her, greatly upsetting Alibech. When she is asked by her fellow noblewomen after the wedding how to put the Devil back in Hell, she informs them with “gestures,” and the women burst out laughing. They tell her that she shouldn’t be upset because her husband “will want to serve the Lord as well.”

A similar sexual and religious theme is present in “The Dumb Gardner.” A young, capable man named Masetto pretends to be dumb in order to live, work in the garden, and sleep with all of the nuns at a convent. He says to himself, when he sees all of the young nuns, “Once you put me inside that garden of yours, I’ll tend to it better than it’s ever been tended before.”

He plays dumb so that the nuns have to make the first move, and two do so out of curiosity. Within a short time, all of the nuns and the Abbess find out and join in on the fun.

Masetto is in such high demand all day every day that he stops playing dumb and wants the Abbess and nuns to make an arrangement to share him equally. The Abbess thinks that it would be better to compromise than “tarnish the reputation of the convent.”

Therefore, Masetto continues to live, work, and sleep with all of the convent; he fathers many “nunlets and monklets” without ever having to provide for them and care for a family. When the Abbess dies, Masetto retires at an older age with a “fat pension” and no worries.

In both stories, an audience can see a criticism of the church, but more importantly, the idea that sexual situations are a prime source of comedy. This still carries over into modern literature and entertainment. Sex jokes will always be funny; explicit content is nothing new to today’s audiences.

The Decameron is a perfect example and truly showcases how humans haven’t changed in 800 years. It is realizations like this that make me love history for the pure aspect of understanding human nature to its fullest potential. The people of the 14th century really weren’t the prudes everyone assumes they were.

To read the full stories, you can access PDFs online from the following links:

“Putting the Devil into Hell:”

https://www2.clarku.edu/faculty/mmalsky/composer/devil_text.pdf

“The Dumb Gardner:”

http://fiatlux-day.org/e2a/literature/decameron/3-1.pdf

Summer Reflections: Social Media and Exposure to Violent Death

By Dr. Tina Thomas

Dr. Thomas is Visiting Assistant Professor of Anthropology. Featured Image courtesy of the Independent:

This summer, I am taking time to reflect on the past year and what I want to do in the near and distant future. I am also reflecting on my relationships with others. When I think about personal relationships, I automatically think about social media. Before I begin this blog post, I want to preface this writing by stating that this is not a judgment to those who are on social media. I find it to be a wonderful vehicle for staying connected to family and friends, both near and far.

With that said, I have been told that social media is a necessary evil—especially as an academic. It helps you gain a following if individuals are interested in your scholarly work, and it gives individuals easier access to you and all the wisdom you can impart through your research. I have seen professors extremely successful in this venture and I have great respect for how some academics use social media to impart messages related specifically to social justice issues in which I am interested.

Despite this respect, I have to be honest. I dislike social media. A lot. I recently signed into my Facebook account after a few months off. As these things usually go, I got bored, and wanted to see how everyone was doing, who recently graduated, and how teaching was going for other colleagues. In other words, I was using social media as an avenue to stay tuned to all of the changes and experiences that people I knew were currently undergoing.

The first day back on social media, it is fine. It is nice to see people have gotten married, someone’s child has celebrated another birthday, or a well-liked professor from graduate school receives a prestigious award. These are all beautiful markers of life. After day two and three, I start to think back on how people formed relationships prior to social media. Friends were lost along the way just to be found at a later date, or never to be spoken to again. It makes me wonder, is social connectedness a phenomenon that is essentially finite? Is it healthy to be so connected–particularly about bad news?

These thoughts related to mental health rose most recently as I saw many posts regarding the failure of the legal system to see the personhood of Mr. Philando Castile. For those unaware, Mr. Castile, a dedicated public-school cafeteria supervisor, was shot and killed by Minnesota police officer Jeronimo Yanez during a traffic stop. He was murdered in front of his girlfriend and her four-year-old daughter. As the officer approached, Mr. Castile shared with the officer that he was carrying a legally licensed gun and that he was not reaching for the weapon. Shortly after, Officer Yanez shot into the vehicle seven times. Ms. Reynolds, Mr. Castile’s girlfriend, documented the entire deadly exchange on Facebook Live. Despite the video evidence, the officer was acquitted of the charge of second-degree manslaughter.

I have not posted anything on social media concerning this current event, and I genuinely wonder why. I wonder why I cannot muster up a single word on social media that encapsulates my anger, my fear, my sadness, my disgust, my horror, and my exhaustion at the devaluation of black and brown bodies on a consistent basis. There are several dimensions that come into play as I reflect on this, including among others, Latinx anti-Blackness and mental health concerns associated with the consumption of such violent acts.

I will focus on the latter for now, as it is fresh on my mind with a friend posting a commentary on why people should not view the Philando Castile Facebook Live video. In all honesty, I cannot view any more of these videos. In the past, I viewed these videos to honor the death of those who were murdered. However, after the initial pain, they became desensitizing. It is almost as though I kept seeing these events happen over and over again, and I started to feel numb to the pain of it. Not only did I feel numb, but there was an expectation that the most recent video being posted would not be the last. In short, I felt myself losing hope. That was not a positive place for someone who tries to develop ways to address social justice issues.

So, I haven’t watched the video, although I have inadvertently viewed the photos as I scroll past my Facebook newsfeed and that is heartbreaking enough. Despite these difficult feelings, I am glad to feel heartbroken and upset. I am glad to feel both the pain and the anger at thinking of the tragic loss that Mr. Castile’s girlfriend and her small child had to witness.

In short, everyone has their psychological limits as to what they can process and consume without damage. I have discovered that my social media limit abruptly halts when hope for change is no longer a possibility. As an anthropologist, I constantly ponder on the complexity of humans–namely their ability to be both cruel and kind. Despite our particular propensity for cruelty, I also understand that acts of kindness and altruism override the need for violence in all forms. My hope leans into those who see the humanity in all and in the change that we can create beyond social media and can apply to the collaboration of bettering the lived experience of others.

Hillary Clinton and Her Controversially Priced Clothing: Who Gives a Damn?

By Yasmine Naama ‘17

Since her days as first lady of the United States, Hillary Clinton has been a target for Image result for hillary clintonfashion police everywhere. Even after an investment in style experts for her long journey down the campaign trail, the public still feels the need to share its two cents about the classily dressed pant-suited lady every time she makes a public appearance. But why is it that no one feels the need to comment on Donald Trump’s overabundance of $7,000 Brioni suits, while Hillary’s $12,495 Giorgio Armani tweed jacket is all the buzz? The importance society has put on woman’s fashion is to blame, and we can turn to French philosopher and theorist Michel Foucault and similar researchers for the answer.

Foucault references Jeremy Bentham’s idea of the Panopticon in relation to his studies around self-discipline and punishment. According to Lydia Alix Fillingham (1993), The idea of a Panopticon is “that every person is isolated in a small room, where they all may be observed at all times by a single person in the center tower” (p. 126). The backlash against Hillary Clinton’s choice of designer jacket shows that she is being surveyed under the male panoptic gaze. Every move that she makes under the public eye; as psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan writes, she is being looked at “steadily, intently, and with fixed attention.” Because she is a victim of the gaze, conscious decisions are made regarding her outfit choices whether she knows that someone is watching or not.

Furthermore, Hillary Clinton’s attention to her wardrobe is an example of an internal struggle between her real self versus her fake self. Sarah J. Tracy and Angela Trethewey (2005) write that, “Truth effects created by the real-self fake-self dichotomy are important not because there are necessarily true differences between real and fake selves, but because people talk and act as if there are” (p. 170). This is important because it shows that Hillary’s choice to wear a designer jacket while giving a speech to the public highlights her “fake self.” Because she is being watched, she feels the need to display her identity in order to please the male panoptic gaze. Wearing a designer jacket demonstrates that she has the money to dress in a flattering manner, and money communicates that she has power as well.

From a woman’s perspective, the struggle for power over the male gaze is increasingly strong because of the technologically saturated world we live in. Furthermore, Tracy and Trethewey (2005) explain that, “Specifically, we argue that the dichotomy encourages (a) strategized self-subordination; (b) perpetually deferred identities; (c) auto-dressage; and (d) the production of organizationally preferred ‘good little copers’” (p. 170). Perfectly posh pant-suited Hillary Clinton’s choice in dress code exemplifies her actively deferring her identity, or real self. The structures of society and the idea that we are unconsciously being viewed under a microscopic lens encourage the real-self versus fake-self dichotomy that Hillary displays in her public appearance.

On another note, we can also use identity theory when surveying the media’s fixation on Hillary’s clothes. Donal Carbaugh’s idea that identity is a product of communication can also be used to explain why attention is paid to not only what Hillary Clinton wears on a day to day basis, but other women in the workplace as well. According to Carbaugh (1996), “From this vantage point, the question Who am I? depends partly on ‘where’ I am, with whom I am, and what I can ably do there, in that scene, with those people, given the (material and symbolic) resources that are available to the people there” (p. 24). This relates to Erving Goffman’s dramaturgical analysis where he explains that we are all actors on a stage and different scenes (situations) call upon different behaviors depending on whom we are interacting with. The podium that Hillary Clinton stands behind while giving a speech to a specific audience is an example of the many different “stages” that she portrays herself differently for. Additionally, Carbaugh promotes his idea of the Cultural Pragmatic Idiom to communicate that we do not have identity but that identity is something that we show depending on whom we are engaging in conversation with. He writes that, “One’s sense of who one is derives from the particular arrangement of social scenes in which one participates” (Carbaugh, 2005, p. 25). This exemplifies why Hillary Clinton’s decision to wear a Giorgio Armani jacket to a particular speech has been under public scrutiny. Society is questioning her sincerity because of her wardrobe choices.

So why do we give a damn about Hillary Clinton’s jacket? The public cares because much more so than men, society has deemed that a woman’s fashion style communicates how she want to be seen and heard by her subordinates. Her designer jacket exemplifies the respect that she is gauging for from the public. Hillary, like most women, is a victim of the male panoptic gaze, and in response to that struggles with her identity in portraying a real versus fake self while in front of an audience.

 

Crossing Oceans

by Nitya Chagti ’19

Nitya Chagti won second place in the 2017 Bailey Oratorical competition. This year’s prompt was: “At the heart of the liberal arts is civic engagement: How can we use the values of our liberal arts education to heal divides in our nation and world?”

Am I your family?

Think about it. Think about this question long and hard in the next eight minutes as I attempt to persuade you into believing in what I believe in.

Am. I. Your family?

Your immediate reaction is probably: no. After all, you didn’t grow up with me, we didn’t have the same household, and we don’t share any memories together. If you were really thinking about it, you would say I don’t have the same skin colour as you. My accent is different. My mannerism are not like yours. I am, in your eyes, a foreigner. A member of the OTHER.

Now think a little harder. I’m not your family, as we already established, and I’m not from your culture either. And yet I’m here on a stage, speaking to you. How do you know it’s safe to be in the same room with me?  What do you even know about me that you would think it’s safe? If, in this moment, you started to make a list of reasons why it’s safe to listen to me: she’s just a young girl, she’s an Indian so she’s probably a Hindu, she’s doesn’t look like she has a bomb strapped to her; Then, brothers and sisters, we have something to talk about. Because if you made that list, then you just acknowledged fear. You’re afraid that there ARE people out there – on the other side of the ocean – who are going to hurt you. They may not be me, but they exist.  That’s xenophobia. And xenophobia hurts people, creating irreparable divides. These divides are fostered solely by ignorance, but they can be mended by a liberal arts education.

We came to Juniata College thinking that we were going to be handed answers. But that’s not what a liberal arts education does. Instead, it makes realize that we actually don’t know what we thought we knew by challenging our perceptions of the world. So, it makes us curious. And curiosity is the key. The way to eliminate xenophobia, caused by lack of understanding, is to be curious.

So let me ask you this: what’s xenophobia? The word comes from the Greek for xenos, meaning stranger, and phobos, meaning fear.  This irrational fear of strangers doesn’t exist in a vacuum: it hurts people, and the tendency to lash out at strangers is the reason why I’m ashamed. I’m embarrassed of where I’m from, I’m embarrassed of my cultural identity. Here, I no longer share the food that I bring from home – because I’m embarrassed when my friends think that it looks funny.  Here, I pack on powder on my face every morning because I’m ashamed of my skin colour – because I wasn’t born pale enough to fit in.  Here, I usually don’t wear Indian clothing because I’m afraid that if I do, a black truck sporting a Confederate flag will go blazing down Moore Street, singling me out for being different – singling me out for being new.  And here, I’m called Nits. Every semester, I leave my name behind at home so I can fit in: Nitya, meaning eternal, never-ending; what a joke! No one can pronounce it.  Why are we expecting people to stop being themselves just because we’re afraid of them?

The less we know about others, the more we fear them, and the more we fear, the more we hurt people. Surrounded by oceans, we know so little about the seven billion other people that we share this boat with. But I’m guilty of this too. I’ve been uninformed before.  You see, four years ago I went on a walk with my mum and I came across the only Jewish synagogue in New Delhi, India. The synagogue was five minutes from my home and yet I’d never even heard of it.  It’s really surprising now that I think about it, considering that New Delhi is a vibrant city, and it is positively bursting with a variety of cultural beliefs, and to think I’d never even heard of Judaism. Of New Delhi’s 20 million residents, only 40 – forty people, can you imagine – identify as Jewish.  I was so excited! From that moment on, I was so curious that I made it my life’s mission to raise awareness about the Jewish heritage in India. So I organized a heritage walk, the first of its kind in the country, where I introduced dozens and dozens of people to the synagogue.  I believe that stories can alleviate this lack of understanding. As Melissa Flemming, the head of Communications at the United Nations Refugee Agency, once said: “My job is to make people care about the sixty million displaced people in the world. I wish I could tell every single one of their stories. Because if people knew their stories, I don’t think there would be so many walls.”

See, that’s the key: civic engagement isn’t about large-scale activism. It’s about curiosity. It’s about seeking out challenges, as liberal arts teaches us to do. And it’s not as impossible as it sounds. I’ve seen the community around me be curious before.  It all goes back to when I was a freshman, sitting alone on the floor of my room on the night of Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights, and feeling gut-wrenchingly lonely. Juniata’s Hindu population was negligible – so there were no streamers or lights or exchange of gifts that night. There was no music, dancing, or laughter in the air. I was alone.  “Never again,” I thought to myself. So I set aside my fear of sharing Indian food and of wearing traditional clothing, and next October, I organized the first Diwali celebration on campus. I did not – even in my wildest imaginations – expect the overwhelming response that I got. Ellis Ballroom was packed – over 80 people showed up! It was so unexpected, that we actually ran out of food AND space. That night, the Juniata community and the Huntingdon residents wrapped me in a warm cocoon of love and encouragement. I couldn’t have organized such a huge event without the people I hadn’t expected to help at all: my roommate, my closest friends, my fellow Plexans, and my Friendship Family. My wonderfully thoughtful friendship family, who Googled Diwali traditions and handed me the largest box of goodies that I’ve seen. So that I could have a little piece of tradition even if I wasn’t at home.  Without their curiosity, without their desire to help out, I would have been left, yet again, sitting alone on the floor of my room, lamenting the distance from my family. But they saved me. They loved me. So I said something that day which I still hold to be true: I see all of you as my family, my home away from my home.

Now, I ask you again: am I your family? There’s a reason why I’m asking this. When I ask you if I’m your family, I mean that the only way for us to heal the divides of xenophobia is to address the lack of understanding about the other, which can be done if we ask questions. It can be done if we’re curious. Rabindranath Tagore, an Indian poet who won the Nobel Prize for Literature, once said that, “you can’t cross the sea merely by standing and staring at the water;” Which puts me in mind of a Hindi quote: “Boond boond se sagar banta hai.” It means it takes mere drops of water to make a sea. So individual effort, over time, can bring about a larger change.  Each of us has to ask the questions that move us past ignorance. Because if we don’t – if we don’t – then we’ll stay separated on different sides of the ocean, isolated in our paranoia and hurt. Curiosity will move us past xenophobia, because it eliminates this lack of understanding.  That night in October, you cared enough to ask. I felt the magic – but it wasn’t just magic, it was the beauty of a liberal arts education, which teaches us to be curious, to challenge the world, to come out of our shells. We have to be curious about individual cultural expressions so that ONE day, when someone with a different skin colour, a different accent, and different mannerisms asks you: Am I your family? You WANT to say yes.

To watch the Baileys for 2017, click here. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pZypa80UOhI

 

 

 

 

The Secret Life of a Secret Procrastinator

By Maddie Caso ’17

Most people see me in Founders lounge with my feet propped up on the coffee table in the lounge, hot chocolate in hand, and laptop open, my fingers clicking away on the keys.  And most people would assume that the telltale sound of keys on the keyboard means I am doing some kind of work for the seven classes I decided to take my last semester as an undergraduate.

I hate to shatter the illusion that has been created, but this is unfortunately not the case, as much as I wish it were.  Over the last four years I have carefully projected the image of a person always doing something, always working, always moving forward, always, always, always.  Instead I live and work in a world rarely spoken of, one of secret procrastination: here, I hide behind my computer screen and several stacks of books surrounding me, making people think I’m doing work, when I might really be scrolling through tumblr, reading a news article, or watching a video on YouTube.

I never intended to live in this world, truly.  I will graduate with honors, have been accepted into graduate school, and will have taken nine semester’s worthImage result for procrastination of classes in the eight that I’ve been at Juniata College.  By all rights, I should not be a procrastinator, and yet somehow I ended up being a person who doesn’t do my work when I should.

I know I’m procrastinating and that I shouldn’t because I am taking seven classes and working with several professors on important projects, projects that I am invested in and want to see through to the end.  I don’t want to disappoint the people I’m working with, so when I do sit down and work, I work as hard as I can, knowing that it is valuable to people, including myself.

Because I live in a world of secret procrastination, there isn’t anyone to tell me not to procrastinate.  And that’s the catch: I’m the only one that can stop my procrastinating ways because I’m a secret procrastinator that doesn’t want people to know about my procrastination problem, hence the secret procrastination.

The Mansplaining Hordes

by Belle Tuten

Today a new version of the “mansplaining” meme appeared on social media. A far-right politician in the UK, Arron Banks, got into a Twitter war with one of the world’s most eminent historians of the Roman empire, Dr. Mary Beard. Beard has written more than a dozen books on Roman history, so when Banks tweeted that immigration had destroyed the Roman empire, she politely suggested that his view of Roman history was not entirely accurate. What followed was classic mansplaining: after doubling down, suggesting that Beard had no idea what she was talking about, and spouting a bunch of hot air, Banks ended by tweeting that Beard had been a “good sport” and then ended with this zinger:

“They [professional historians] view history through the prism they want to, it doesn’t make it right or wrong.”

If you aren’t grabbing your stomach from nausea right now, then congratulations, you have a stronger stomach than I do.

Beard herself is hardly unfamiliar with this sort of thing. In 2014 she gave the London Review of Books address with the title, “Oh Do Shut Up Dear,” in which she demonstrated the systematic silencing of women’s voices in literature from the Greek classical period onward. Toward the end of this piece (which is excellent; you should read it), she writes:

“We need to think more fundamentally about the rules of our rhetorical operations. I don’t mean the old stand-by of ‘men and women talk different languages, after all’ (if they do, it’s surely because they’ve been taught different languages)… [W]e need to go back to some first principles about the nature of spoken authority, about what constitutes it, and how we have learned to hear authority where we do. And rather than push women into voice training classes to get a nice, deep, husky and entirely artificial tone, we should be thinking more about the faultlines and fractures that underlie dominant male discourse.”

Amen. While we’re at it, let’s work on the other rhetorical constructions that Mr. Banks’s interesting Internet adventures highlight.

  • Everyday sexism. Certainly, by saying that Beard had been a “good sport,” Banks expressed surprise. He expected that she would behave like a bad sport — i.e., by responding negatively or with anger — i.e. emotionally — i.e., like a woman. Had Beard’s tone gone more negative, what do you suppose he would have said about that? Certainly, something along the lines of “Oh Do Shut Up Dear,” or “Don’t get so emotional.” Certainly not: “Oh, I beg your pardon: I see you have written 12 books on Ancient Rome and are better informed than I am.”
  • “Everybody’s entitled to their opinion.” I am going to start to call this EETO-ism. No, everyone is not entitled to have their uninformed, uninterested, or even malignantly ignorant opinion considered on the same level with those which are informed, interested, and educated. Philosopher Patrick Stokes has written a wonderful piece on this at the website The Conversation. Find it here.

A terrific book by writer Rebecca Solnit called Men Explain Things to Me relates the now well-known story of her meeting with a man who spent part of a party lecturing her on the “very important book” that she should read if she really wanted to know about a particular subject. The problem was, of course, that the book he was referring to was Solnit’s own book. (Read her account of that moment here.) Here is part of her reflection on that and many other moments:

“The battle with Men Who Explain Things has trampled down many women–of my generation, of the up-and-coming generation we need so badly, here and in Pakistan and Bolivia and Java, not to speak of the countless women who came before me and were not allowed into the laboratory, or the library, or the conversation, or the revolution, or even the category called human.”

As a college professor I have the luxury of having at least some claim to knowledge about my own expertise on my own turf (although many college students may not consider it knowledge worth having; that is a different problem). But I’m a professor in the humanities. There is certainly a different conundrum for my female and non-binary colleagues and colleagues of color in the social and natural sciences. I cannot help but think that as the humanities have more and more female etc. professors, the humanities get more and more sidelined by the “real” [read: quantitative?] social and physical sciences, from which female and nonbinary students and students of color are dropping out at demonstrably higher rates than straight white male ones. Is that also a statement on the nature of authority?

 

 

The Modern (Fan)girl

By Dr. Belle Tuten

This post reviews the novel Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell (St. Martin’s, 2013).

You might take one look at the title of this novel, Fangirl, and the author’s name, Rainbow Rowell, and say, “Ugh.”  The title “Fangirl” makes me think of screaming tweens at a One Direction concert, and it doesn’t help me to know that the author’s first name is (really!) Rainbow.  In combination they make me think of pink frilly bedrooms and unicorn posters. Hardly the stuff of deep thought or emotion.

That’s why I am so grateful that I was told to read this book. In an era of truly good Young Adult literature, this book is special; it goes places where normal coming of age books don’t.

Rowell’s “Fangirl” is a young woman named Cather Avery. Cather and her identical twin, Wren, are freshmen at the University of Nebraska. Wren is a party girl who is determined to separate herself from her nervous and introverted twin. Cath is still in shock that Wren has left her, and she is so anxious that she lives the first several weeks of college entirely on protein bars because she can’t bear to go to the cafeteria.

Cath is also a prolific and popular fanfiction writer under the name Magicath. In a nod toward J. K. R. and He Who Is Always Popular, Cath lives deeply inside a world populated by magicians at a magical school, with a Chosen Hero called Simon Snow and his arch-nemesis, a vampire named Baz. As we read bits of both the “original” books and Cath’s fan fiction, which has Simon and Baz fall in love (in opposition to the “original” texts), we learn more about Cath, who is both terrified and fascinated by love and sex. Simon and Baz provide Cath with a way of expressing her longings and her insecurities, and she’s so good at writing about them that she has tens of thousands of regular readers.

Cath’s writing professor spots her talent immediately, but chastises her for plagiarizing someone else’s characters. But Cath can’t express to her professor why she needs to live her emotional life through the story of Simon and Baz. We gradually learn why, as we learn how Cath and Wren developed ways of coping with an absent mother who left when they were eight. We also meet their devoted and loving father, who suffers from episodes of severe mania. To me, the sections in which Cath interacts with her father and deals with his mental illness are the most convincing and poignant scenes in the book. The reader learns to love Cath and the people she loves.

Eventually, of course, Cath goes to the cafeteria, finds a significant other, and begins to grow up – both up, and also away from Simon and Baz. Nothing gets “solved,” per se, at the book’s end, but many things about Cath’s life have moved on.

The book reminded me of the distant past when I was a bookish nerd in my first semester of college who was scared to go to the library by myself.  I think many women of many ages will find in Cath either a reflection of themselves or a companion in their journeys.

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